Past the dense western suburbs of Washington, the vistas widen into open stretches of fields and farmland — a panorama frequently interrupted by massive, windowless buildings housing the high-speed computers that make technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence possible.
These data centers are beginning to dot landscapes across the nation, from Virginia to Oregon. Each has hundreds of servers and routers that send and receive data for everyday tasks like streaming content on mobile devices and handling high-speed financial trades.
“It is the engine that powers the machine,” said Gordon Dolven, director of data center research in the Americas for CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm. “Everything on your phone is stored somewhere within four walls.”
In the past few years, the need for data centers has rapidly increased, fueled by changing work habits during the pandemic and the growth of cloud-based technologies. That means more buildings, more land, more cooling systems and more electricity to support the physical infrastructure that runs 24/7.